The beloved teacher and civil rights activist was a pioneer of engaged Buddhism who popularized mindfulness around the world.

By Joan Duncan Oliver

JAN 21, 2022

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Master, Dies at 95
Thich Nhat Hanh at the Plum Village monastery in southern France | Courtesy Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism

Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh—a world-renowned spiritual leader, author, poet, and peace activist—died on January 22, 2022 at midnight (ICT) at his root temple, Tu Hien Temple, in Hue, Vietnam. He was 95. 

“Our beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away peacefully,” his sangha, the Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, said in a statement. “We invite our global spiritual family to take a few moments to be still, to come back to our mindful breathing, as we together hold Thay in our hearts in peace and loving gratitude for all he has offered the world.”

Thich Nhat Hanh had been in declining health since suffering a severe brain hemorrhage in November 2014, and shortly after his 93rd birthday on October 10, 2019, he had left Tu Hien Temple to visit a hospital in Bangkok and stayed for a few weeks at Thai Plum Village in Pak Chong, near Khao Yai National Park before returning to Hue on January 4, 2020. He had returned to Vietnam in late 2018, expressing a wish to spend his remaining days at his root temple.  

Known to his thousands of followers worldwide as Thây—Vietnamese for teacher—Nhat Hanh was widely considered among Buddhists as second only to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in the scope of his global influence. The author of some 100 books—75 in English—he founded nine monasteries and dozens of affiliated practice centers, and inspired the creation of thousands of local mindfulness communities. Nhat Hanh is credited with popularizing mindfulness and “engaged Buddhism” (he coined the term), teachings that not only are central to contemporary Buddhist practice but also have penetrated the mainstream. For many years, Thich Nhat Hanh has been a familiar sight the world over, leading long lines of people in silent “mindful” walking meditation. 

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Thich Nhat Hanh’s role in the development of Buddhism in the West, particularly in the United States. He was arguably the most significant catalyst for the Buddhist community’s engagement with social, political, and environmental concerns. Today, this aspect of Western Buddhism is widely accepted, but when Nhat Hanh began teaching regularly in North America, activism was highly controversial in Buddhist circles, frowned upon by most Buddhist leaders, who considered it a distraction from the focus on awakening. At a time when Western Buddhism was notably parochial, Nhat Hanh’s nonsectarian view motivated many teachers to reach out and build bonds with other dharma communities and traditions. It would not be an exaggeration to say that his inclusive vision laid the groundwork for the flourishing of Buddhist publications, including Tricycle, over the past 35 years. 

At the heart of Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach to Buddhism was his emphasis on dependent origination, or what he called “interbeing.” Although this is a core teaching shared by all schools of Buddhism, prior to Nhat Hanh, it received little attention among Western Buddhists outside of academia. Today, it is central to dharma practice. Nhat Hanh viewed dependent origination as the thread that tied together all Buddhist traditions, linking the teachings of the Pali canon, the Mahayana teachings on emptiness, and the Huayen school’s vision of radical interdependence.

While Thich Nhat Hanh was a singular and innovative teacher and leader, he was also steeped in the Buddhist tradition of his native Vietnam. More than any other Zen master, he brought the essential character of Vietnamese Buddhism—ecumenical, cosmopolitan, politically engaged, artistically oriented—to the mix of cultural influences that have nourished the development of Buddhism in the West. 

Thich Nhat Hanh | Courtesy Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism

Born Nguyen Xuan Bao in central Vietnam in 1926, Nhat Hanh was 16 when he joined Tu Hieu Temple in Hue as a novice monk in the Linchi (Rinzai in Japanese) school of Vietnamese Zen. He studied at the Bao Quoc Buddhist Academy but became dissatisfied with the conservatism of the teachings and sought to make Buddhist practice more relevant to everyday life. (Tellingly, he was the first monk in Vietnam to ride a bicycle.) Seeking exposure to modern ideas, he studied science at Saigon University, later returning to the Buddhist Academy, which incorporated some of the reforms he had proposed. Nhat Hanh took full ordination in 1949 at Tu Hieu, where his primary teacher was Zen master Thanh Quý Chân Thậ. 

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Nhat Hanh assumed leadership roles that were harbingers of the prolific writing and unrelenting activism that his future held in store. In the early 50s, he started a magazine, The First Lotus Flowers of the Season, for visionaries promoting reforms,  and later edited Vietnamese Buddhism, a periodical of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), a group that united various Buddhist sects in response to government persecution at the time. In 1961, Vietnamese Buddhism was closed down by conservative Buddhist leaders, but Nhat Hanh continued to write in opposition to government repression and to the war that was escalating in Vietnam.

Nhat Hanh first traveled to the United States in 1961, to study comparative religion at Princeton University. The following year, he was invited to teach Buddhism at Columbia University. In 1963, as the Diem regime increased pressure on Vietnamese Buddhists, Nhat Hanh traveled around the US to garner support for peace efforts at home. After the fall of Diem, he returned to Vietnam, and in 1964 devoted himself to peace activism alongside fellow monks. Nhat Hanh became a widely visible opponent of the war, and established the School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS), a training program for Buddhist peace workers who brought schooling, health care, and basic infrastructure to villages throughout Vietnam. In February 1966, with six SYSS leaders, he established the Order of Interbeing, an international sangha devoted to inner peace and social justice, guided by his deep ethical commitment to interdependence among all beings. 

On May 1, 1966, at Tu Hieu Temple, Nhat Hanh received dharma transmission from Master Chan That, becoming a teacher of the Lieu Quan dharma line in the forty-second generation of the Lam Te Dhyana school. Shortly thereafter, he toured North America, calling for an end to hostilities in his country. He urged US Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara to stop bombing Vietnam and, at a press conference, outlined a five-point peace proposal. On that trip he also met with the Trappist monk, social activist, and author Thomas Merton at Merton’s abbey in Kentucky. Recognizing a kindred spirit, Merton later published an essay, “Nhat Hanh Is My Brother.” 

thich nhat hanh with dr. martin luther king jr
Thich Nhat Hanh with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a joint press conference on May, 31 1966 Chicago Sheraton Hotel | Courtesy Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism

While in the US, Nhat Hanh urged the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King publicly condemn the war in Vietnam. In April 1967, King spoke out against the war in a famous speech at New York City’s Riverside Church. A Nobel Laureate, King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in a letter to the Nobel Committee that called the Vietnamese monk “an apostle of peace and nonviolence, cruelly separated from his own people while they are oppressed by a vicious war.” Nhat Hanh did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize: in publicly announcing the nomination, King had violated a strict prohibition of the Nobel Committee.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s anti-war activism and refusal to take sides angered both North and South Vietnam, and following his tour of the US and Europe, he was barred from returning to his native land. He was granted asylum in France, where he was named to lead the Buddhist peace delegation to the Paris Peace Accords. In 1975, Nhat Hanh founded Les Patates Douce, or the Sweet Potato” community near Paris. In 1982, it moved to the Dordogne in southwestern France and was renamed Plum Village. What began as a small rural sangha has since grown into a home for over 200 monastics and some 8,000 yearly visitors. Always a strong supporter of children, Nhat Hanh also founded Wake Up, an international network of sanghas for young people. 

After 39 years in exile, Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam for the first time in 2005 and again in 2007. During these visits, he gave teachings to crowds numbering in the thousands and also met with the sitting Vietnamese president, Nguyen Minh Triet. Though greeted with considerable fanfare, the trips also prompted criticism from Nhat Hanh’s former peers at UBCV, who thought the visits granted credibility to an oppressive regime. But consistent with his stand of many years, Nhat Hanh made both private and public proposals urging the Vietnamese government to ease its restrictions on religious practice.

Fluent in English, French, and Chinese, as well as Vietnamese, Nhat Hanh continued to travel the world teaching and leading retreats until his stroke in 2014, which left him unable to speak. But Nhat Hanh’s legacy carries on in his vast catalogue of written work, which includes accessible teachings, rigorous scholarship, scriptural commentary, political thought, and poetry. Beloved for his warm, evocative verse, Nhat Hanh published a collection of poetry entitled Call Me By My True Names in 1996. His instructive and explicatory work includes Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, published in 1967, and such best-sellers as Peace is Every Step (1992), The Miracle of Mindfulness (1975, reissued 1999), and Living Buddha, Living Christ (1995).

In addition to his followers worldwide, Nhat Hanh leaves behind many close brothers and sisters in the dharma, most notably Sister Chan Khong. A longtime friend and activist in her own right, she has assumed a more pronounced leadership role in the sangha in recent years. 


Interbeing with Thich Nhat Hanh: An Interview 
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam in October 1926 and became a monk at the age of sixteen.

The Fertile Soil of Sangha
Thich Nhat Hanh on the importance of community.

The Heart of the Matter
Thich Nhat Hanh answers three questions about our emotions

Walk Like a Buddha
Arrive in the here and the now.

Free from Fear
When we are not fully present, we are not really living

Cultivating Compassion
How to love yourself and others

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Little Peugeot
The Zen master reflects on our culture of empty consumption and his community’s connection to an old French car.

Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Suffering
Instead, we should fear not knowing how to handle our suffering, according to Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Fear of Silence
While we can connect to others more readily than ever before, are we losing our connection to body and mind? A Zen master thinks so, and offers a nourishing conscious breathing practice as a remedy.




~~~ CONTINUE ~~~

a letter to the tribe

 Dear Tribal Members,

The Phoenix is an immortal bird associated with Greek mythology that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

As we know Macho Acres burned to the ground.  Words don’t capture the feeling of loss of such a mythical place where a gathering tribe of societal outcasts and shameless reprobates assembled over the years, making memories. Many schemes and projects were birthed at the “Acres” 

Sib and Deborah’s beautiful home is gone, but it will be rebuilt in only the style they both exude. What won’t return are all of the collections, totemic objects discovered around the planet with stories to go with them.. They are unfortunately lost to the universe.  

What The Tribe needs to do. Peruse your personal museums (rugs, weaving, old ice axe’s, juju and Tchotchkes) then generously put all those beautiful items in a large box and send to:   

Mike Weis / Pamela Peters

1005 Pratt St. 

Longmont, Co 80501

Weis promised he wouldn’t sell any of the acquired booty on eBay or his monthly garage sales.  The Sibley Museum replacement items will be placed in a secure container and guarded by a recently acquired pack of under-fed, wild Rottweilers. The Tribe will then pass on the collections at an appropriate time, such as an upcoming Acres Rendezvous.

Thank you for your generosity and please keep this very quiet so it’s a surprise when we turn over the treasure chest to the pirate.

with kindness and respect

The Phoenix Project scribes

post script:

Hey Jerry, 

Now Michael and I are going to have to build a MUCH larger abode just to accommodate all the treasures we expect to plunder. Also givers to the Phoenix Project should include any details, provenance, superstitions etc with their ill-gotten gains. That way Paul will feel right at home (no pun intended) with his “new” treasures!



November 26, 2021


~~~ LISTEN ~~~

For more than 20 years the performance artist known as Reverend Billy — real name, Bill Talen — has been crusading against consumerism in New York and abroad. I first met him in early 2000, when I recorded his attempt to exorcise a cash register in the Disney Store on Times Square. 

“People, tourists, listen to me,” Reverend Billy called out in the flagship store. “Mickey Mouse is the anti-Christ. This is the devil!”

Chain stores, especially Starbucks, were the targets of the Reverend Billy’s wrath as he railed against “the sea of identical details.” He blamed them for destroying mom-and-pop businesses all over America. Back then, Talen was known to enlist audience members in political actions. I followed members of one throng as they marched to a Manhattan parking lot, where a billboard deemed an affront to the neighborhood was defaced using paintball guns.

After the economic meltdown in 2008, Talen shifted much of his focus to the climate crisis. The fake clergyman remains the spiritual leader of the Church of Stop Shopping, and in November celebrates 20 years of musical anti-consumerist crusading in a New York City concert with his Stop Shopping Choir. But he now refers to the Earth as “our religion.” He launched a podcast, and in a video posted on YouTube he stands at a lectern in the ocean, preaching about extreme weather.

~~~ WATCH ~~~

“The globe is warming and it is human-caused!” he preaches, water up to his knees. “This wet, white and blue spinning rock in space that is our home is in grave danger.” As the sermon progresses, the sea does, too, rising up to his waist, then his chest.

Firms like British Petroleum now serve as the Reverend’s foils. At the Tate Modern in London, he exorcized BP, which had underwritten an exhibit. Protesters dumped gooey black theatrical oil over his Elvis pompadour, and it dripped down to his trademark white suit. 

“Climate change! Climate change! Climate change!” he shouted in a cavernous section of the museum, his voice ringing with urgency. Though he intentionally smeared a BP logo on a wall with the black goo, Talen was not detained. He says he’s never been arrested in the U.K., though he claims police followed him constantly during a nine-city tour earlier this month.

Talen, 71, estimates he’s been arrested elsewhere more than 50 times over the last two decades—always in his clerical collar, along with a leisure-suit wardrobe expanded to include shades of neon pink, orange and green. His longest jail stay was three days in California. During the pandemic, he was arrested for trespassing at a field hospital in Central Park set up by an anti-gay religious group.

Sometimes Talen keeps the clerical collar on even when he’s not performing. Over the years, he’s started assuming pastoral duties, presiding at hundreds of weddings, baptisms and even funerals. “People pulled me into rituals,” he says. “I was at first just following what people were telling me to do, in a sort of state of amazement. But now I’m just helping wherever I can.”

Talen has a knack for conveying spiritual sincerity to both his audiences and the dozens of people in the Stop Shopping Choir, says Alisa Solomon, a veteran journalist and Columbia University professor, who edited the 2011 book The Reverend Billy Project

“There’s a tendency at first to look at Reverend Billy and say, ‘Oh, yeah. We know this joke: Here’s a guy who’s making fun of the Jimmy Swaggarts,'” Solomon says. “But he’s not just making fun of the preacher role; he’s making use of it. Reverend Billy is not a role that he just puts on and plays: he really is Reverend Billy.”

Solomon cites Talen’s wife, Savitri D. — Talen refers to her as the director of the Church of Stop Shopping — for the dramaturgical shaping of the group’s public actions. “Their events are highly choreographed,” Solomon notes. “There are plans for where the choir is going to stand, when they’re going to sing, when Billy is going to bust out into a sermon.”

That as many as 25 members of the Stop Shopping Choir continued to rehearse in Brooklyn during the pandemic, Savitri D. explains, prepared the group well for its recent British invasion. “During COVID, we met on a rooftop and sang in masks for three hours, week after week, in all kinds of weather,” she says. “We were able to tour in the U.K. and be a really coherent ensemble because we never stopped singing together.”

The choir was bolstered by several members of its satellite chorus in the U.K., and supported by a grant from the British Arts Council. The tour concluded in Glasgow during the COP26 Summit, though its final performance was cancelled after a member tested positive for COVID.

~~~ WATCH ~~~

Some members of the Stop Shopping Choir have sung in the group for a decade or longer, according to musical director Gregory Corbino. Veterans say it’s like a second family. The ensemble includes an opera singer, as well as a Tony-nominated actor, Amber Gray, who is currently starring in Hadestown on Broadway. (Gray, Savitri D. notes, is one of several participants who’ve met their mates in the choir.)

“Some people end up in the choir because they are deeply invested in direct action activism,” says Sunder Ganglani, who has written several of the choir’s most recent songs. Others simply do it for the love of singing. “There are many roads for entry,” Ganglani confirms.

For Talen, activism clearly is a serious tenet of faith. As a way of minimizing his carbon footprint, he flew standby to the U.K., and donated a portion of the British Arts Council funds to a bicycle delivery group and a community garden. By all accounts, locals seemed open to listening to New York City’s faux clergyman. Talen appeared on the BBC, and preached outside the British Museum dressed in a pink suit and carrying a matching pink megaphone. 

His bullhorns were seized regularly by the New York Police Department when he first started railing against consumerism in Times Square during the late 1990’s. It’s not lost on Reverend Billy that his current mode of conveying apocalyptic environmental concern has something in common with the sidewalk preachers he lampooned all those years ago.

“I do feel that I’m getting back to some of the fire and brimstone when I shout about the fires and the floods,” he says, chuckling. “It sounds a lot like those screaming Old Testament people that I was satirizing 20 years ago. And here we are with all that fire and brimstone actually happening in our lives.”

a happy National Day of Mourning from Señor Lane in Chile


Pisco Lovers…just off the press ..Mistral with the amber from barrels tostado and…40 proof …You’ll love it!!!!
mayordomo personal, don Tim
National Day of Mourning



Newspapers showing the results of the Chilean presidential elections in Santiago on Nov. 22. (Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images)
Image without a caption

By Anthony Faiola

Et tu, Chile?

In Latin America, a region adrift in mad political swings and managed chaos, the long, thin nation that Henry Kissinger once dismissed as a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica was lucky to be politically dull. Neighboring Peruvians went through five presidents in three years, ultimately flipping from a Wall Street banker to a radical leftist schoolteacher. Brazilian voters dizzyingly spun from the Workers’ Party to the Trumpian fringes of Jair Bolsonaro. But Chileans living in one of Latin America’s most successful nations kept a relatively even keel, leaping from staid and serious European-style socialists to a right-wing centrist who in June came out in favor of same-sex marriage.

Chile is even keeled no more. A country long held up globally as a free market model run by moderates has slipped into the world of political extremes, taking with it the illusion of Chile as an oasis in a sea of instability. It happens as the polarization sweeping up much of the democratic world reaches into the Southern Cone, prompting deeply divided Chileans to give the most votes in Sunday’s first-round presidential election to two wild-card candidates.Advertisement

José Antonio Kast is the son of a German officer who served in Adolf Hitler’s army, and a longtime defender of late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. A Trump of the Andes, Kast wants to dig a ditch in the desert to stop migrants and get tough on crime. He came in first with 28 percent of the vote and will square off against Gabriel Boric, a bearded millennial and former student activist who garnered 2 percentage points less. While more moderate than many on the far-left, Boric is hardly middle of the road.

“If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave,” he said after winning the candidacy for his leftist bloc.

“In Chile, I think you see what is now the established trend in Latin America — the complete crumbling of political parties with any kind of moderate centrist option,” Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, told me this week. “It’s being replaced by high levels of political uncertainty and enormous fragmentation.”

After a December runoff, one of the two men will become president, adding Chile to the growing ranks of New World nations — Brazil, El Salvador, Peru, the United States — that set sail into uncharted waters with unpredictable outsiders at the helm. It’s anyone’s race, but experts give Kast the edge.

“Kast has been tapping into the intense anxiety of what he calls Chile’s ‘silent majority’ (shades of Nixon and Trump!), channeling and relentlessly stoking fears and anger about the country’s future and its identity,” Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean American author, wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

Their domestic dynamics may be different, but the culture wars propelling Kast to the presidency in Chile are similar to the themes that took Trump to the White House. Kast has strongly backed the police against left-wing charges of excessive force. He demonized the 1 million migrants — mostly from Venezuela and Haiti — who saw stable Chile as South America’s land of opportunity. At his victory rally Sunday, some supporters wore Make America Great Again caps.

“Kast’s proposals to close Chile’s frontiers to ‘illegal immigrants’ and build a trench to keep them out have been met with enthusiasm by nationalistic voters who blame these economic refugees for a rise in poverty and delinquency,” Dorfman wrote.

The collapse of the center in Chile was a chronicle of political death foretold. After Pinochet’s ruthless rule came to an end in 1990, the newly democratic nation witnessed a historic period of economic growth. Gross domestic product growth between 1990 and 2018 averaged 4.7 percent annually, well above the Latin American average. Over that same period, democratic governments increased social spending. Extreme poverty (below $1.5 per day) was virtually wiped out.

But, like much of the region, Chile is also confronting corrosive levels of inequality, and too many people hovering just above the poverty line. It is one of the most economically unjust nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of developed nations. As Time’s Ciara Nugent wrote last week, poorer Chileans today face untenable living costs, with 6 in 10 households earning too little to cover monthly expenses.

In 2019, the result was a social explosion, theoretically sparked by a transit fare increase. But more broadly, it stemmed from the pent-up fury of lower-income Chilean youth, many of whom felt cut off from upward mobility by the nepotism and class connections that corral wealth for Chile’s economic elites.

Sebastián Candia, a young lawyer in Chile, told me in 2019 how he’d joined those protests. The son of a carpenter and the first of his family to attend college, he’d spent more than a year looking for work after graduating from a top university. He was saddled with $19,000 in student loan debt and unable to find a job, while his family fell behind on bills in a free-market economy that lacked the state subsidies offered in other nations in the region.

“Chile is a pretty-looking tin-roofed house in the slum that is Latin America,” he’d said then. “But when you look inside, it’s rotten.”

Like much of polarized Latin America, Chileans are also losing faith in traditional parties. Center-right President Sebastián Piñera survived an impeachment attempt over alleged irregularities in the sale of a mining firm, but the accusations fed into the cross-continental narrative of a privileged political elite.

For angry Chilean youth, there is something to look forward to: a grand bargain for a new constitution to replace the one drafted during Pinochet’s dictatorship. In May, voters in a low-turnout election chose a left-leaning special assembly to draft the constitution — shocking markets and moderates alike with the prospect of writing in big social spending hikes and free market curbs.

The gravitation of youth in Chile to the more distant left explains the rise of Boric. The presidential hopeful embodies the student movement that has criticized the mainstream left for its unwillingness to touch sacred cows like Chile’s landmark but troubled private pension system. Boric has said he will replace it with a public pension plan.

A growing backlash to that leftward shift explains Kast. Some Chileans appear deeply uneasy with the direction of the new constitution and are skeptical of the reluctance of left-wing politicians to denounce continuing acts of violence during left-wing protests and by indigenous Mapuche activists in the country’s south.

“You can protest, but peacefully,” Ramon Zambrano, a Santiago doorman, told Reuters. “They’re making a mess, burning cars, burning the metro.”

Sergio Bitar, who served in the cabinet of Salvador Allende, the elected socialist overthrown by Pinochet in 1973, as well as in more recent center-left governments, recently told me that the firm hold of more centrist parties in congress may control the most radical impulses of whoever wins.

But the risk posed by both Kast and Boric is more social unrest, and rough and tumble political wars that could eliminate Chilean exceptionalism as a politically stable South American state.

“I would never have thought such change could be possible in my country over the course of just two years,” Bitar said. “Both roads could lead us to the abyss, to becoming Argentina or Peru.”

A San Juan Tribal Gathering


Scott, Blake and Lorraine talking about dad

Saturday (11/20/21) a large group of friends from around the region and Bill’s family gathered at the Telluride Transfer Warehouse to reminisce, talk story and give tribute and respect to Bill and honor his family.

Many spoke through tears along with deep laughter as we remembered an institution, an icon, a member of the Tall Timber Society of the San Juans. Bill was a positive life force. What an event, Que no? Margs and beers were consumed along with tamales and burritos, some of Bill favorites. Even the Magpie flew through an open window, perched on the sill and squawked a bit looking at the dining opportunities, just like Bill would and uttered, “There are two kinds of people. The quick and the hungry!”

te amamos y te extrañamos querido amigo

Kindness is the highest form of wisdom.


Bill’s extended family

Bob Newman sharing his big world view on Bill
Jerry Oyama’s words


A celebration of Bill’s life will happen at the Telluride Transfer Warehouse

Saturday from 2 – 5 in the afternoon. You’d better be there if you are a friend of the Kees

~~~ A Telluride Icon Remembered ~ KOTO ~~~



The 1966 convictions of the men are expected to be thrown out after a lengthy investigation, validating long-held doubts about who killed the civil rights leader

Norman 3X Butler, left, and Thomas 15X Johnson, right, maintained their innocence, but were convicted in Malcolm X’s killing on the testimony of several eyewitnesses, who told conflicting stories. There was no physical evidence against them.
Norman 3X Butler, left, and Thomas 15X Johnson, right, maintained their innocence, but were convicted in Malcolm X’s killing on the testimony of several eyewitnesses, who told conflicting stories. There was no physical evidence against them.Credit…Photographs by Associated Press
Ashley Southall
Jonah E. Bromwich

By Ashley Southall and Jonah E. Bromwich

Nov. 17, 2021

Two of the men found guilty of the assassination of Malcolm X are expected to have their convictions thrown out on Thursday, the Manhattan district attorney and lawyers for the two men said, rewriting the official history of one of the most notorious murders of the civil rights era.

The exoneration of the two men, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, represents a remarkable acknowledgment of grave errors made in a case of towering importance: the 1965 murder of one of America’s most influential Black leaders in the fight against racism.

A 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for the two men found that prosecutors and two of the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department — had withheld key evidence that, had it been turned over, would likely have led to the men’s acquittal..

The two men, known at the time of the killing as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, spent decades in prison for the murder, which took place on Feb. 21, 1965, when three men opened fire inside the crowded Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan as Malcolm X was starting to speak.

But the case against them was questionable from the outset, and in the decades since, historians and hobbyists have raised doubts about the official story.

The review, which was undertaken as an explosive documentary about the assassination and a new biography renewed interest in the case, did not identify who prosecutors now believe really killed Malcolm X, and those who were previously implicated but never arrested are dead.

Nor did it uncover a police or government conspiracy to murder him. It also left unanswered questions about how and why the police and the federal government failed to prevent the assassination.

The killing of Malcolm X was one of the most notorious murders of the civil rights era. There were long-held doubts about who was actually responsible.
The killing of Malcolm X was one of the most notorious murders of the civil rights era. There were long-held doubts about who was actually responsible.Credit…Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press

But the acknowledgment by Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney who is among the nation’s most prominent local prosecutors, recasts one of the most painful moments in modern American history.

~~~ CONTINUE ~~~